Leibovitz’s Journey at the Smithsonian

In the spirit of the (lunar) New Year, I have a confession to make. For having lived in such an arts rich cities over the course of my lifetime, my museum attendance has been less than impressive.

Image via Vogue.com from Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz, Copyright © 2011 A.L. Archive LLC

Although I often blog about arts events, in comparison to the volume of readily accessible shows in DC, and in LA to name a few, I’ve missed more than an acceptable share of exhibits due to simple lazyness. Often letting my busy schedule get the best of me  Constantly making excuses due to a busy schedule, shows have come and gone with me inevitably saying: Oh, maybe next time.

However, with a thesis focusing on museums and new blogging assignments, I am determine to turn a new leaf. So this past week, I scheduled a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art to tour photography powerhouse Annie Leibovitz’s latest show, Pilgrimage Even though my impetus for attending was to do a bit of thesis research as well as compose a review for Washington Flyer Online (which is available here), once there I quickly remembered why I should make more time for cultural events. That is of course, only after I figured out that I was in fact at the correct location.

In the spirit of full disclosure; the exhibit had me doing a bit of a double take. When I arrived on the second floor and walked towards the side rooms housing the show framed by a large “Annie Leibovitz, Pilgrimage” stenciled on the walls, I thought: Are these Leibovitz photographs, or are they photographs that she was inspired by? Although lazy at times, I nonetheless consider myself a seasoned art-goer, and in this instance, I was genuinely confused. It wasn’t so much that the photographs were in a decisively different style than I’m used to seeing from the artist. No, it was the fact that the ever dependable wall plaques proffering the usual (albeit benign) data the for pieces were MIA. Artist, medium,  date, description; all gone.

Once I came to the astute realization that I was indeed in the right place and that that this information was indeed missing, I was initially taken aback– No camera information (digital or analog, both)? No printing information (were these c prints, or what)? With the only text on the walls featuring stories about the pieces?? How am I suppose to write about pieces that have no clear name, that have no information on what type of technology even produced them? However, once I finished with my initial rant the show and began attempting to sketch out a review I realized just how thought provoking, and excellent, the curation was.

In the short UK publication based on a lecture given in memory of publishing giant Thames & Hudson founder Walter Neurath, in Experience or Interpretation Nicholas Serota details the practice of museums relying on two tropes that drive curatorial practice. Where as experience for Serota is about the viewer being immersed in a space, interpretation is about the way the space is given to the viewer; the way they are told what they are suppose to be seeing in so many words. As a system that is constantly evolving, over the past decade, the climate for presenting exhibits has changed dramatically; with the of proliferation of social media, weak ties, and data deluge driving the way we connect with our world, curators have had to revisit how and in what capacity they present the visitor with information. If the current Leibovitz show at the Smithsonian is any indication of things to come, I can’t wait to see more.

 

Key Image Image via The Atlantic Online. AP.

Alicia Dillon

Alicia is a former CCT Graduate Student.